Theater review: Spring Awakening

BY HARLEY ROACH | The Statesman  

When I first started my secondary schooling five years ago, I roomed with my friend Paige. After an evening out, Paige came home raving about the Renegade Theater Company’s production of the musical “Spring Awakening.” It became her “thing” for a while. She especially loved the soundtrack, and I occasionally heard jazzy snippets of the rock music through the walls of our old rental.  

“Catchy enough,” I had told her. “Maybe I’ll go see what it’s all about sometime.”

Slowly, “Spring Awakening” fell off my radar and became another one of those things you promise your friends you’ll check out, but never do—until last Thursday, that is.

When I heard UMD’s School of Fine Arts would be putting on a production of “Spring Awakening,” a twinge of familiarity compelled me to keep my word to an old friend.

The plot follows a group of teenagers struggling with their transition from childhood into young adulthood in late 19th century Germany. The story of the show explores a variety of themes such as the confusion of puberty, suicide, challenging the status quo and society’s twisted expectations regarding sex.

This, along with its groovy modern soundtrack, gave me the impression that “Spring Awakening” could be set at any point in history, at any place in the world and still hold up as a relevant parable of young adulthood.

However, when first sitting down to watch the show, my expectations were vague. All I knew was that it would be a wild musical about kids dealing with the challenges of growing up. I certainly did not expect to feel the sting of tears in my eyes.

Now, I’m no stranger to crying over fiction. When a certain character died, I had to set down “Harry Potter” and take a few minutes to bawl. “Spring Awakening” evoked a similar sense of deep emotion, which I think speaks to something very special about the production.

“Harry Potter” was a story years in the making. I had known the characters throughout my entire childhood and adolescence, and had come to care for them all deeply. In a way, “Spring Awakening” was the same. We all grew up knowing rebellious Melchior and curious Wendla, almost everyone knows an unfortunate Ilse, whether we admit it or not, and too many of us have friends and classmates who ultimately chose the same destructive path as Moritz.

For bringing to life such relatable, lovable characters, I commend the cast. The confusion, the excitement, the terror and the anger of growing up shone through in each portrayal, even in the very choreography of the show.

“Spring Awakening” was not a happy musical, but it was a hopeful one. It’s resonated particularly well with the current generation of young adults and I believe much of this is the reassurance that our stories are as old as time, and that our pubescent turmoil was universal.

However, the most hopeful message reached me shortly after the show. Posted outside of the Marshall Performing Arts Center were posters about the history of sex education. As a supplement to the musical, they acted as a call for change to a sex-ed curriculum that leaves many gaps.

For as much grief as we Millennials may receive, it seems as though a large portion of our generation doesn’t plan on maturing into disconnected adults who can't find it in themselves to speak openly with their children. Society as a whole has been moving further away from the sheltered one we see in “Spring Awakening” and that makes me proud.

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